Trends in Learning Structures in
Higher Education (II)
(report text)

WIDESPREAD INTEREST AND SUPPORT

The Bologna process is high on national and institutional agendas

The Bologna process is on the higher education agenda of all signatory countries: each has either a unit, a working group, a forum or a debate dealing with the Declaration and its significance for governments and higher education institutions in the national context.

The follow-up debate and process has been organised according to several different patterns. In a majority of the countries concerned, the Ministry of Education has taken on a leading role, in all cases in more or less close co-operation with other key actors. In the most frequently encountered pattern the main partner organisations are the national Rectors' Conference(s). Other partners are also found in some countries: a broad range of stakeholders (e.g. in the UK), student unions (e.g. Sweden) or the national ENIC/NARIC unit, especially in Central/Eastern Europe.

Several countries have set up a special (sometimes a formal) follow-up group, usually in the form of a working group bringing together ministerial officials and higher education representatives, e.g. in three of the Nordic countries, Germany (including the federal and L?nder authorities) or Spain; a similar group is planned in Portugal. In Austria, the Ministry has created a "progress chasing project" to monitor the implementation of the Declaration.

In several countries without a mixed follow-up unit, the Rectors' Conferences have set up special committees or working groups to consider the Declaration. This is the case in e.g. France, Belgium (both the French Community and Flanders) as well as in Switzerland. In these three countries, the working groups are specific for the university and college/polytechnic sector. In Malta, the University of Malta, as the only university in the country, has taken on the role to monitor the process. In Switzerland universities have set up a "Steering Committee" with a "Bologna co-ordinator" and an Advisory Group with the mission to ensure a co-ordinated introduction of the changes resulting from the implementation of the Bologna Declaration.

The Bologna Declaration has been discussed in an impressive number of events and fora

It is not possible to draw up a full picture of the information and discussion events dealing mainly or partly with the Bologna Declaration since June 1999. The following paragraphs try to convey an impression of the scope of the debate, distinguishing between the European, national and institutional levels.

At the European level, a series of seminars dealing with the main objectives of the Bologna Declaration was commissioned by the "follow-up" group put in place by Ministers for the implementation of the Declaration. They received financial support from the European Commission and focused on the following aspects:

  • mechanisms for credit accumulation and transfer (Leiria, Portugal, November 2000);
  • quality assurance and "accreditation" (i.e. the certification that certain standards of quality are met) in the European higher education area (Lisbon, January 2001);
  • patterns for undergraduate studies and degrees (Helsinki, February 2001);
  • transnational education (i.e. education delivered in a country different from the country of the institution controlling the course programme) in the broader context of "competitiveness" or "attractiveness" of European higher education (Malm?, Sweden, March 2001.

Apart from these "official" seminars, the Bologna Declaration was discussed in a series of meetings organised or supported by inter- governmental and non-governmental organisations.

What follows is just a few examples to provide an idea of the breadth of the debate.

A major positive change has been the recent creation of the European Network of Quality Agencies in higher education (ENQA) on the basis of a recommendation by the EU Council of Education Ministers. It was launched in February 2000 and all future work related to quality assurance aspects in an emerging European higher education area should be able to benefit from it. Actual and anticipated developments related to the Bologna Declaration have quite naturally been a major topic on the agenda of ENQA meetings.

The ENIC/NARIC network co-ordinated by the European Commission, the Council of Europe and CEPES/UNESCO has set up a working group and produced a statement on the implications of the Bologna Declaration on recognition issues.

The creation of the European higher education area was also on the agenda of the 2000 annual conference of OECD's programme on institutional management (IMHE).

The Bologna Declaration was also an important topic at numerous workshops and conferences organised by European associations/networks in higher education, e.g. CRE (Association of European Universities), the Confederation of EU Rectors' Conferences, EURASHE (institutions of the college/polytechnic sector), ESIB (National Unions of Students in Europe), SEFI (European Society for Engineering Education), EAIE (European Association for International Education), ELIA (European league of Institutes of the Arts), ELFA (European Law Faculties Association) and many others.

At the national level, many countries have reported that the Declaration was discussed not in one or two, but in many different meetings. In countries where the implementation process is already well under way, such as Italy, Germany or the Netherlands, there were specialised seminars dealing with particular issues emerging from the reforms in progress. Several countries had a national "Bologna information day" organised by the Ministry (e.g. in Austria and Greece), the Rectors' Conference (e.g. in Hungary and Switzerland), the quality assurance agency (in the UK), the NARIC/ENIC (in five countries in Central and Eastern Europe) or the national student unions (e.g. in Malta, Sweden, Norway). Such "Bologna days" are also planned in Portugal and in Ireland in April 2001. Germany invited representatives from all other signatory countries to its national Bologna Day in Berlin in October 2000.

Other reports on information activities include the translation of the Bologna Declaration and the main background report ("Trends 1") into the national language and their dissemination to various actors (e.g. in Greece, Spain and several countries in Central and Eastern Europe), explanatory articles in university magazines (e.g. Iceland) or interviews/press conferences for major newspapers (reported by e.g. Malta and the UK). Some co-ordination meetings took place at the level of a region (e.g. the Baltic Higher Education Co-ordination Committee in April 2000) or across a common border (e.g. between Flanders and the Netherlands on quality assurance and accreditation).

There were in many countries ministerial statements supporting the goals and principles of the Bologna Declaration or stressing its compatibility with the national higher education policy. Such statements were made in Parliament in e.g. Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. In e.g. Germany they were issued by the federal authorities (BMBF) as well as by the Conference of State Ministers of Education (KMK). In a number of countries (e.g. Belgium and Spain) the Ministers have decided not to issue an official opinion before the rectors' conferences produce their own. Liechtenstein confirmed that it felt in line with the Declaration and could sign it any time.

The debate did, of course, not start and develop at the same pace everywhere. In Finland it seems that the most intensive discussion took place before the country agreed to sign the Declaration and a more technical debate has taken place since. In other countries, the debate has reached public attention more recently, e.g. in Greece (where it came into focus mainly since December 2000) or in the French Community of Belgium (where the Minister emphasised that the process is one of long-term considerations and that premature action should be avoided). In Portugal, government as well as higher education institutions have expressed their deep interest in achieving the goals of the Bologna Declaration and in introducing the necessary reforms.

The higher education sector itself organised numerous meetings and discussion forums, in addition to those held in conjunction with governmental authorities already mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Rectors' Conferences were very active in this area in many countries, both in the university and in the college/polytechnic sector (e.g. in Belgium). Many rectors' conferences have issued statements expressing their basic support to the creation of a European higher education area, e.g. in Poland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland (the "12-point Statement"), the Netherlands, etc. Meetings and debates for members were also organised at the initiative of other national organisations like student unions (in e.g. Sweden and Austria) or the association of international officers (e.g. HEURO in the UK). Finally, it is important to mention that a large number of individual universities and other institutions organised internal seminars and information days for their own staff, students and partners (e.g. in Barcelona, Malm?, Gent, Lille, Bordeaux, Brussels, Brno, etc.)

Interestingly, the development towards a more coherent, and hence more compatible European higher education system has already received attention from universities outside Europe. This is hardly surprising, since the completion of an understandable degree structure in Europe would make the continent more attractive for students, teachers and universities from the rest of the world, and provide a suitable alternative to study destinations in other continents. Contacts have been established on this basis with the Association of Universities of Asia and the Pacific (AUAP); within the framework of the Columbus programme, there two seminars on regional convergence in higher education between Europe and Latin America were organised in 2000. The Association of Commonwealth Universities is also showing an interest in the European convergence process.

Integration into national policy plans and action programmes

The Bologna Declaration has been taken up in several national (governmental) reports on higher education. Examples can be found in Norway (where the Mjs Report of May 2000 on the Bachelor/Master structure took account of the Declaration and served as a basis for the White Paper on higher education), the Czech Republic (White Paper of December 2000 on government's education policy), Slovakia (Strategic Plan For Higher Education of August 2000), Latvia (Conception Plan For Higher Education Development), Estonia (Development Plan of Estonian Education) or in the Netherlands (where the Minister's Policy Memorandum draws on the report of the Rinnooy Kan Committee of July 2000). In other countries, the Declaration has been considered in the cyclical policy planning or reporting to Parliament, e.g. in Austria (Three-Year Report of 1999), Finland (governments' Five-Year Plan For Education for 1999-2004), Flanders (Policy Paper on Education/Training for 2000-2004) or Sweden (Minister's 2000 Report to Parliament). In Switzerland, the Rectors' Conference and the Science Council produced two action-oriented reports on the implementation and co-ordination of the process in the country.

In some countries, action is mostly based on major higher education reports produced prior to the Bologna Declaration that are in various stages of their implementation phase: the Dearing and Garrick Reports in the UK, the Martinotti Report in Italy and the Steering Group Report on Higher Education in Ireland (all are from 1997). The countries concerned all have mentioned that the implementation measures, while they would have happened in some way anyhow, have been influenced in their content and timing by the Bologna Declaration (e.g. for the finalisation of the two new Qualification Frameworks in the UK). In Spain, it is not yet clear to what extent the Bricall Report ("University 2000") is being drawn upon for the preparation of the planned reform of the 1983 Law on Higher Education.

STRONG CONSENSUS ON THE CORE OBJECTIVES OF THE PROCESS

The three core objectives of the Bologna Declaration for the European higher education area are free mobility, employability on the European labour market, and international competitiveness/attractiveness of European higher education. The survey reveals an amazingly strong consensus on these objectives.

Unanimous support to promotion of mobility

The aim of the Bologna Declaration to promote more and free mobility is seen as relevant, important, very relevant, of greatest importance, or even as crucial or vital, by 25 of the 29 countries.

In most countries, the Bologna Declaration is perceived as supporting an already existing priority given to mobility, or "as an important step in a process that started some years earlier" (Netherlands). Its main roles are described as:

  • stimulating the debate (Sweden, Finland, Malta, Czech Republic) and creating new dynamics (Flanders);
  • accelerating or facilitating reforms (French Community of Belgium, Czech Republic, Austria, Finland), in particular by creating a common awareness of the need to reform (Spain, Portugal);
  • clarifying the issues and the direction of reforms for European compatibility (Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic).

In line with this, many countries are of the opinion that the changes they have introduced or planned would have happened anyway, but that their scope, orientation and timing have been influenced or determined by the Bologna Declaration.

Against this background of unanimous support to mobility, it is interesting to observe that the reasons underpinning this unanimity vary considerably. The main reasons mentioned by the various countries are:

  • long-standing emphasis on mobility as a national priority, e.g. in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Ireland, the UK or Switzerland;
  • new emphasis on mobility as part of the integration process into the EU programmes, in particular SOCRATES/ERASMUS, in all accession countries; answers from these countries show a dual concern to make study abroad possible for their own students (many are introducing top-up grants) and to balance exchanges by attracting students from other countries;
  • the implementation of the Lisbon Convention on recognition and of the Mobility Action Plan adopted by the EU in November 2000;
  • new or renewed national priority in countries where the process of internationalisation of higher education is seen as insufficient in view of national needs; this was stressed in particular by Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Greece, as well as by Hungary and Slovenia. The first four countries have recently taken measures to support double- degree curricula and/or to provide significantly more funding for mobility (the budget for grants is to triple in Spain). Greece regrets that its higher education is still a "rather closed system";
  • free mobility is seen as particularly important in "small" countries with a strong need for study and employment abroad, e.g. Iceland, Malta, Liechtenstein and the Baltic Republics.

Another interesting aspect is that many countries approve of mobility not only for outgoing students, but place new emphasis on incoming mobility and on the need to eliminate obstacles encountered in this area. The underlying reasons are related to the desire to fill labour shortages (e.g. in Ireland), to attract more foreign students (the UK, Malta, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden), especially young researchers needed to sustain high level research centres and programmes (Ireland, Germany, Finland).

Only a few countries mentioned the importance of teaching staff mobility. According to the new Italian Law of 1999, teaching abroad should become a criterion for the selection and promotion of university teachers; similar provisions are planned in Belgium (French Community) and France. Austria plans to eliminate from its legislation on civil servants articles seen as incompatible with international mobility in higher education.

Several countries, in particular those with a federal or very decentralised higher education system, stressed that free mobility in Europe would also enhance mobility between their constituent units (Germany, Spain, Switzerland) or their different types of higher education institutions (a few countries in Central Europe).

This is not the place to draw up an inventory of all the various measures taken or planned to encourage or support mobility. The following observations are meant to draw attention to certain specific or new directions in reforms:

  • several accession countries have taken measures to lighten visa obligations for exchange students, or to ensure national treatment to citizens of EU countries; the current limitations of mobility between the EU and non-EU countries are seen as important obstacles;
  • the decision to accept foreign students is increasingly decentralised to colleges/polytechnics, e.g. in Sweden or Belgium (French Community); universities have enjoyed this freedom as part of their autonomy;
  • a database on the recognition of foreign degrees should be operational in Norway from 2002; this kind of public, stabilised and timely recognition data reduces the risks of mobility and the underlying mechanism could apply in the wider European context.

More structural measures were also mentioned as factors facilitating mobility: the adoption of a credit system, the streamlining of the degree structure, the Bachelor/Master articulation, the implementation of the Lisbon Summit on employment, etc. This signals the direction of efforts towards changing the conditions in the environment and thus creating more opportunities for students (as was emphasised in particular by the Netherlands).

Another key observation made by many countries is that the aims of the Bologna Declaration in the area of mobility are strongly underpinned by parallel developments and existing instruments. The taking over of the acquis communautaire in education, the implementation of the Lisbon Convention on recognition and the implications of the Mobility Action Plan adopted by the EU in November 2000 are important factors of reform mentioned by many countries. The EU mobility programmes (mainly ERASMUS), the Diploma Supplement, the ECTS credit transfer system and the EU Directives on professional recognition were mentioned as instruments in the implementation of the aims and principles of the Bologna Declaration. Two important conclusions can be drawn from this:

  • The Bologna Declaration is largely in line with national priorities and other European actions; it is reinforcing these other priorities and activities and is being reinforced by them.
  • The scope and level of mobility required in a well-functioning European higher education area depends on the fair, timely and efficient recognition of qualifications for academic and professional purposes; the tools and instruments exist; the main challenge now is for higher education institutions and governments to make use of them (cf. report of the NARIC/ENIC working group on recognition issues in the Bologna process; this view has also been emphasised by the Swedish Ministry).

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